The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Work, Bread, and Border Enforcement: Continegency Employment and Latino Immigrant Workers in New Mexico

Friday, January 18, 2013: 11:00 AM
Executive Center 2B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Cesar G. Abarca, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach, CA
Purpose: Immigrant Latino workers endure low-wages and harsh labor conditions in the U.S. These workers are increasing their participation in temporary employment and it has a direct impact on their potential to earn a decent living and being able to support their families on intermittent wages. This study examines the participation of Latino immigrant workers in contingent employment in New Mexico by analysis the local labor markets in the state and workers’ human capital (e.g. formal education, English language proficiency, and labor skills) to explain their participation in this labor sector.

Methods: Using qualitative methods, participant observation and unstructured interviews performed between October 2010 and May 2011, this study examines the living conditions of 28 workers Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Additionally, the study documents the motivations of eight stakeholders, including employers and support services providers, and their work with Latino immigrant workers. Contingent Employment is defined by Rassuli (2005), as conditional and transitory and in this study includes Temporary Employment Agencies (TEAs in Albuquerque) workers and Day Laborers seeking employment in a Day Laborers Hiring Site (DLHS in Santa Fe). Data analysis applied Grounded Theory techniques (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).


Results: Qualitative outcome data demonstrated that Latino immigrant workers struggled to find permanent work in contingent employment and suffered from abuses including not receiving agreed wages, not getting paid at all, or securing no work for long periods of time. Despite their efforts work was scarce due to the economic downturn. Latino immigrant workers participating in TEAs had more regular jobs assignments, earned higher wages, but their ability to secure work was mediated by agencies’ managers; on the other hand, Latino immigrant workers at the DHLS enjoyed more autonomy to seek employment and negotiate their own wages, but had lower wager and longer waits between work assignments. Latino immigrant workers’ human capital had no significant impact in their participation in contingency employment.


Implications: Due to the increasing enforcement of immigration laws in the U.S. interior, but particular in states with an international border such as New Mexico, practice implications include immigrant workers enduring increased exposure and vulnerability to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Also, this factor is compounded by the economic stress experienced by immigrant workers unable to secure permanent employment. The implications for policy include the increasing barriers that Latino immigrant workers faced in seeking work in public spaces. Finally, the increasing enforcement of border security policies by local law enforcement agencies will increase the likelihood of Latino immigrant workers declining to report labor abuses or serious job-realted injuries due to their fear of being questioned regarding their immigrating status, possibly been arrested, and potentially faced deportation.